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Freedom of Information Act (Federal) Research Guide

This guide discusses how to use the federal Freedom of Information Act , 5 U.S.C. 552, to obtain records from federal government agencies when those records are not published in the Federal Register or distributed by the Government Printing Office.

Case Law

If you need help interpreting any portion of the FOIA or regulations made under it, case law may be useful. Researching case law will be essential if your FOIA request is denied and you decide to appeal the denial.

1. Annotated Codes

One way to look for case law interpreting the FOIA is to review the annotations following 5 U.S.C. § 552 in an annotated version of the United States Code:

2. West's Federal Practice Digest Topic and Key Numbers

Another way to search for cases is to look in West's Federal Practice Digest [KF127 .F31 1989]. Most FOIA cases are summarized under the topic Records (326), key numbers 30-68 (public access). Below are key numbers for some major issues:

  • k33: Persons entitled to disclosure; interest or purpose
  • k34: Proceedings for access
  • k35: Proceedings to prevent disclosure
  • k50: In general; freedom of information laws in general
  • k51: Agencies or custodians affected
  • k52: Persons entitled to disclosure; interest or purpose
  • k53 ‹ k60: Matters subject to disclosure; exemptions
  • k61 ‹ k68: Proceedings for disclosure

To search for any of these key numbers in a case law database on Westlaw, use the terms & connectors search TO(326k??), where the TO() limits your search to Westlaw's "Topic" field and the?? represents the key number.